A leading environment campaign group says creating a third national park for Scotland could lead to badly-needed affordable housing becoming available for local people.
John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, (APRS) says while Scotland’s national parks have control over planning for building new homes, properties tended to be snapped up by second-home owners, the well-off and retirees.
Mr Mayhew is calling for a system ensuring “affordable” means that a certain number of homes, private or rented, are “ring-fenced” for groups such as local people on average salaries.
Scotland currently has two national parks, one in the Cairngorms and other at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
The APRS have identified seven possible new sites - Harris, Wester Ross, Glen Affric, the Ben Nevis/Glen Coe area, the Cheviots, Dumfries, and a coastal and marine national park around the Tiree and Mull area.
Mr Mayhew, who last year presented a petition to the Scottish Government calling for a new national park, said: “If you go into any rural area in Scotland and ask what the big issues are, the top two or three concerns are affordable housing to buy or rent for young people.
“Demand for housing is particularly strong in attractive areas because wealthy people like to buy second homes or people with money like to retire there.
“This makes it even more difficult for people to afford suitable housing. For example there might by mostly five-bedroom homes with two garages with people commuting into Inverness. Those working in the tourism, crofting and agricultural sectors can’t afford them. This is why we need some type of control to be introduced.
“Local people live and work in these areas, are bringing up their families. But people wouldn’t need to be fifth generation Gaelic speakers to qualify for these houses, there are a range of circumstances which also apply, whether it be those who leave to work or study elsewhere then come back and want to put down roots, or incoming workers who have settled in the area.
“If our National Parks could get this right it could be rolled out elsewhere.”
Mr Mayhew added: “Aileen McLeod, the Scottish environment minister, told us that the two existing national parks were doing a wonderful job and that the government was worried about the cost and complexity of another one. The two that we have cost £14 million a year together but we are arguing that a new smaller one would have far fewer costs.”
In a report issued last December Shelter Scotland called on the Scottish Government to double its affordable house-building programme to deliver at least 12,000 new homes each year, saying it would provide a suitable boost to Scotland’s economy.
The charity argued that a major affordable house building drive would sustain up to 19,000 jobs, with every £100 million invested in affordable housing generating £210 million of wider economic activity.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Scottish Ministers have previously met the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association The Scottish Government recognises the unique issues associated with provision of housing in rural Scotland and has listened to rural stakeholders.
“To help address these issues the Scottish Government will introduce a new rural housing fund.
“This fund will aim to increase the supply of affordable housing of all tenures in rural areas of Scotland and will complement existing work with local authorities in delivering their strategic housing priorities.”